We talk to the self-professed 'Best Rapper In Africa' about wanting Sex Over Love as his debut album so loudly proclaims!
All Akumefule Chukwuemeka needed was a challenge. When he was 12 years old, his cousin dared him to write a rap verse and that was all the motivation needed to turn him into the self-appointed 'Best Rapper In Africa' (BRIA), Blaqbonez.
Since 2018, Blaqbonez has graced the Nigerian music scene with consistent work, undeniable talent and a bold attitude that seems to suit his skinny frame best, helping him push his music and stand out at the same time.
"I think right now for artists, it's not only about music anymore. You're selling yourself as a person, so they either like you or they don't," says the 25-year-old "Haba" crooner. "The moment they like you, they like everything that you do. So my focus is on being myself, knowing that there are people out there who will see me and love me for being me."
After three EPs and a series of singles, Blaqbonez has released his debut album Sex Over Love. The lead track "Bling," featuring Buju and Amaraae, hit the number one spot on Apple Music's Top 100 Nigerian Songs during early May. Like every Blaqbonez project, Sex Over Love is unconventional.
Below, the buzzing rapper discusses his debut album and what it's like to be different in Nigeria's super-saturated pop market.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Blaqbonez - Bling ft. Amaarae & Buju (Official Video) youtu.be
Looking at the feedback from your past projects, how would you rate this one?
This one is bursting my head, big time. It's crazy. I can't lie, I'm in one of the happiest places I've ever been. People love it. Others are already having conversations about it being among the best albums of the year.
How does that make you feel?
The love is just real and it makes me really happy. I can't even lie!
Tell us about your approach to the Sex Over Love album.
The album was just me saying my own truth. I looked inwards and was like, 'who am I and what do I represent?' I realised that I can't make love songs because, to me, they aren't sincere. I can't make them the way they're supposed to be made, because I don't experience it. So I decided to make what I experience more often, which is sex over love.
What's your favourite track on the album?
Easily "Okwaraji". That's my best song because it means so much. Bar for bar, word for word, it has so much in it. I was on a deeper level on that song. And funnily enough, like I predicted, it has the most organic numbers from the album right now. It's the song that my fans are talking about the most. It wasn't playlisted — it wasn't the song that we strategically positioned or anything — but it's going crazy on an organic level. It has found its way into the Top 20 Nigerians songs on Apple Music on its own.
Incredible. What's the message of the song?
It basically tells you never to allow love to make you act like an idiot. I'm basically talking to men and kings, telling them to coordinate themselves. Don't misbehave.
What would you say makes your sound different from other African rappers?
My rap is real. A lot of music on this side is random. People just recycle what other people are saying. But my message is clear, distinct and different. Nobody has made an album like this with his chest in Nigeria. It's a bold and irregular approach to love and sex.
In 2019, you went about the streets of Lagos declaring yourself the best rapper in Africa. You have made so many other bold and unconventional moves. Have you ever feared that these moves could cost you some fans?
Right now for artists, it's no longer about music alone anymore. You're selling yourself as a person, so they either like you or they don't. The moment they like you, they like everything that you do. So my focus is on being myself, knowing that there are people out there who will see me and love me for being me.
The truth is that I'm being myself. I'm not doing something that's out of the ordinary in my own life. I'll always be myself, I'll always do what I want to do. So, I'm not worried about sustaining this or that. I'm just living my life. If I get to the point where I feel my life has changed and I'm doing other stuff, it'll reflect in my music.
Tell us how music began for you.
My cousin challenged me to rap. We heard a young guy on radio rap and my cousin was like, 'you are always criticising Nigerian rappers. Oya come and do your own and let's hear you.' So I took that personally and went to write my first verse.
You seem to have an admiration for Wizkid. Have you ever met him in real life?
I've not met him. We have been in the same space, but we've not met officially and had a handshake or anything. I look forward to that day, heavily!
Blaqbonez - BBC Remix ft. Tiwa Savage (Visualizer) youtu.be
Do you think this project will earn you big awards in the coming year?
To be honest, deep down, I don't really care about awards. I only care because people care, so I know that I can use it for marketing purposes. When you make an album that is in the conversation for 'Album of the Year' you will know, regardless of whether you win the award or not. An example from last year was Olamide's Carpe Diem, Wizkid's Made In Lagos, Davido's A Better Time and a couple of others. They are all great projects, but only one person won the [Headies] award because everything was dropped around the same time. But nobody can take anything away from any of those albums.
Do you think hardcore rap is under-appreciated in Africa?
I wouldn't say under-appreciated. I'll just say the roots of the genre are not so deep yet. The genre is growing, and I believe that someday it'll definitely get better in Africa.
Does being a new wave afrobeats artist make you feel pressure in any way, in terms of taking afrobeats to the next level and all that?
I don't see it as a responsibility. I'm not doing anything for anybody. I'm not doing anything to impress somebody else. I'm doing all of this for myself. So it's not like there's pressure. I'm trying not to disappoint myself. I just want to make the best possible music and get myself to where I want to go. This is my race and my own personal journey. You know, a lot of times, artists make it seem as if they are doing us a favour. My main drive is to get to the goals that I've set for myself.
How does it all make sense to you in the end?
My aim is higher heights. I need to take this music to the world stage. Everybody is still trying to get on that Top 100 billboard. We are trying to top it. We are trying to take afrobeats to the next level and that's the same goal that I have. In my head, all these other things are just mini-stops. Global domination is my focus!